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The Misleading World of Atari 2600 Box Art 267

Buffalo55 writes "These days, you don't have to worry about misleading box art, thanks to sophisticated video game graphics. In the 70s and 80s, though, companies tried to grab a consumer's attention with fancy artwork that bore no resemblance to the actual game. Atari, in particular, was one of the biggest offenders, particularly with its 2600 console."
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The Misleading World of Atari 2600 Box Art

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  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @11:29AM (#33355900) Homepage Journal

    I think it was more funny to pick up C64 games and see the words "actual C64 screenshot" during the late 80s when some game companies would put the Amiga screenshots on C64 boxes. I still see people referencing this phenomenon as a joke these days.

  • Game Over (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @11:46AM (#33356182) Homepage
    Anyone remember the 8-bit game 'Game Over'? Now that was misleading, even though they mimicked the box 'art' in the title screen. Gained notoriety for being the first box art needing to be withdrawn and redone (well, in the UK at least - not sure about anywhere else).

    Here's [mobygames.com] the game in question. Look at it, then click the title image. Yep, that's what you think it is. Then click on the gameplay images bottom-left. Err....hmm.

  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @12:18PM (#33356654) Homepage Journal

    "Everyone knows" is the phrase tossed around when people comment on how an actor or actress looks in a photo shoot or on a movie poster. Kiera Knightley has been photoshopped more than once and commented on it, http://www.ministry-of-information.co.uk/blog1/keiramanip.htm [ministry-o...tion.co.uk] They like to endow her with a breast size nature didn't and one she won't use surgery to obtain. From presenting perfect complexions to lightening the skin of black female celebrities; especially Beyonce; we are bombarded by what marketers perceive as the perfect image.

    Technology caught up with games, yet I have found that some of the games that strive for the most in realism sometimes look more fake as one bad effect can blow the entire presentation.

  • by LateArthurDent ( 1403947 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @12:28PM (#33356838)

    This sort of thing was common even through the early 90s for computer games. People understood that the graphical level on the boxes wasn't anywhere near the level of the games. It is misleading to call this sort of thing misleading.

    Gamers understood, but the deception wasn't aimed at them. As a child, I remember being gifted crappy games quite a few times because the non-gamer adults thought I'd like it based on what was on the box art. "This looks really cool, I'll bet my son, nephew, grandson, will like it!"

    The parents are the one with the money, so they were the ones that needed to fooled.

  • by Purity Of Essence ( 1007601 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @12:38PM (#33357010)

    This is a complaint I've made many times. What I recently discovered is that once I started playing a photogenic racer, I was spending a significant fraction of the time watching the replays because they looked so cool. I've softened my stance about racer marketing since then.

  • Not only box art (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @12:41PM (#33357044)

    Back in the 80s you could send a cassette tape and a printout of your computer game written in BASIC to magazines like "Computer and video games". They would then publish the code in the magazine so others could, hold onto your hats young folk, TYPE IT VIA THE KEYBOARD INTO THEIR OWN COMPUTER.

    The code printout in the magazine was always accompanied by great artwork. I was lucky enough to get one of my c64 programs printed in C&VG and it was the highlight of my teenage years.

  • Re:Missing Contents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @12:45PM (#33357132) Homepage
    You know what really annoyed me? Not the games (where at least the picture kinda represented what they would be aiming at if they had modern-era graphics). It was the spreadsheets. And the compilers. And the goddamn word processors. All of those had crazy 3D raytraced covers that made them look like they were the real-life incarnation of Neuromancer... and what they were was a text-mode office application. GAH!
  • by ahodgkinson ( 662233 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @01:22PM (#33357796) Homepage Journal
    Given that the Atari 2600 hardware only had 128 BYTES of RAM and that the entire game had to fit into a 2048 BYTE cartridge (later there were bank-switching cartridges with 4KB), it's amazing that the 2600 games had recognizable graphics at all.

    As to the box artwork: I remember programmers commenting on the nice box artwork, but there was never any mention about how it didn't match the game. Like someone else said, it was like looking at a cover of a science fiction book, knowing that the contents were probably very different.

    To put things into perspective: Back in those days pinball machines were still popular and people expectations of computer games were pretty realistic, e.g. rather low. The IBM AT and XT had just come out, and were targeted at businesses and considered too expensive for the normal household. Graphical user interfaces only existed in research labs and universities. Coin operated video games had much better (and much more expensive) hardware, as compared to the home versions. The home systems had to be less sophisticated, otherwise they would have been too expensive for their target market.

    I used to program these things and remember late night sessions pouring over hex dumps trying to recover a byte or two. The initial programming was done in 6502 assembler (to keep the cost down the CPU packed in a 28-pin DIP, which allowed for all sorts of tricks for saving bytes by addressing memory in unconventional ways). The last few weeks of the programming was typically done in hex, looking for opcode sequences that could be used as data. E.g. we spent our time hand optimizing the hex code. Sometimes we found enough space to put in a new feature or two.

    Now nearly 30 years later I can still remember some of the hex code a few of the 6502 instructions. 4C is JMP, A9 is LDA, etc.

    And by the way, we considered C a high level language back then.

  • Re:I liked it. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AragornSonOfArathorn ( 454526 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @01:55PM (#33358320)

    They did have screen shots. Every Atari 2600 game I bought had awesome cover art on the front, and a some screenshots on the back. The Activision Anthology [gamespot.com] GBA cart reproduces the box art for each game. If you have a GBA (or DS), I highly recommend it. Great collection of classics.

  • by RobVB ( 1566105 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @01:55PM (#33358324)

    Someone who's in marketing recently told me this story, which demonstrates the most important aspect of marketing: target audience selection. Disclaimer, before I continue: marketeers don't usually go this far.

    You pick a random stock. You then send a letter to 4000 people saying this stock will rise, and a letter to 4000 other people saying it will fall. Wait two days, see what it does. Divide the 4000 people who got the right prediction into two groups of 2000.

    Pick a new random stock. Tell 2000 people it'll rise, tell the other 2000 it'll fall. Wait two days, see what it does, repeat with two groups of 1000.

    You now have 1000 people who have received three consecutive correct predictions from you. Remind them how much they could have made if they followed your advice in the last week, then start charging them for stock market advice.

  • Check out Panic 1982 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wazzzup ( 172351 ) <astromac AT fastmail DOT fm> on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @02:06PM (#33358556)

    Panic, maker of (excellent) Mac software has some Atari 2600 boxes for their current lineup of products [panic.com].

    Pretty cool if you ask me.

  • Re:Stupid article. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by david_thornley ( 598059 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @04:38PM (#33361040)

    The back of the box typically had screenshots from systems I didn't use, in my experience. That could be much more deceptive.

  • by SethJohnson ( 112166 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @05:49PM (#33362244) Homepage Journal
    Here's an anecdote to support your assertion:

    I once met a fellow at a party who told me that when he was a small child his mother was single and they had to bounce around from cheap motel to cheaper motels. For him, the Atari 2600 game, Breakout, was pure escapism. He had read every bit of text on the box about how the paddle you control is really a space ship and it is trying to destroy a cosmic cloud barrier that has trapped the ship with all its passengers. This fellow even had constructed a space helmet out of cardboard which he would wear while playing the game. He would often stay up late at night playing and so his mother could sleep in their small hotel room, he would drape a blanket over the television and himself to block the glow.

    The story he told me climaxes when he said one night the fire department came banging on their motel room door. The whole building was being evacuated. The boy, his mother, and the other residents were instructed to stand on the other side of the street opposite the motel. A landslide had weakened the foundation of the building. As they stood out there in the night, they watched as the motel slid down a cliff into the ocean. The boy cried as he watched, in his words, "his whole life being destroyed in that landslide." He meant that his Atari 2600 with Breakout had been lost.

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.